Back-and-forth debate during Question Period over Ag Water Stewardship Policy

The need for a wetland conservation policy in Saskatchewan was a key topic covered in Question Period yesterday (Wed).

The NDP critic for Environment, SaskWater, and the Water Security Agency Erika Ritchie says Saskatchewan is the only province without such a policy.

“More than a dozen people are here today calling on this government to finally develop a strategy to protect wetlands. More than 23-hundred people wrote letters to the Premier asking for the same and they still haven’t got a response. Will the Minister for the Water Security Agency meet with the people who have come here today, and will he commit to a comprehensive, wetland policy?” Ritchie said.

The dozen people referenced were members of the Saskatchewan Alliance for Water Sustainability (SAWS). The organization, for months, has called on the provincial government for a wetland policy similar to what Alberta and Manitoba have.

Agriculture Minister and Minister Responsible for the Water Security Agency David Marit says they’re making a “Made-in-Saskatchewan Water Management Strategy”.

It’s a reference to the Agricultural Water Stewardship Policy which remains in development.

“That obviously is key to the future as we build and protect our world-class, sustainable agriculture sector, Mr. Speaker. The Stewardship Policy will include a suite of policy tools such as wetland retention, using drained water for irrigation, and crop land beneficial management practices,” Marit said. He also said they’ve met with “over 70 different organizations and stakeholders across this province”.

However, the consultation process for the Stewardship Policy was not that comprehensive according to individiuals Ritchie has heard from.

“We’re losing tens of thousands of acres of wetlands every single year. Conserving our wetlands is important for everyone in this province – it’s important for the environment, yes, but it’s so much more. It’s critical to our economy, it’s important for hunters and outfitters, for drinking water, for First Nation and Metis rights, for recreation and cabin owners. There’s a wide swath of people who are impacted by the loss of wetlands and this government is failing all of them.” Ritchie stated.

Marit replied by reading a page of groups consulted with, including the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Water Council for Saskatchewan, Provincial Association of Resort Communities of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Provincial Parks Owners Association, the Prairie Water Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, among others. Other groups he mentioned on a separate page included several First Nations, Tribal Councils, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), and Metis Nation-Saskatchewan.

Ritchie responded by claiming many people have been blocked from participating in consultations and criticized the process for being too narrowly focused.

“Every single person in this province needs access to clean water and this tired, out-of-touch government isn’t listening. The feedback from people and experts needs to be incorporated into the plan, and the costs of mismanaging our water resource…need to be taken into account. Wetlands help to mitigate and manage the impacts of drought.” she said.

The NDP critic then asked what the Minister would do regarding enforcement of illegal drainage.

“When one land owner illegally drains onto another land owner’s property it’s almost impossible to get them to stop. There’s no enforcement and no accountability for landowners who are doing their part and are following the rules. It has to stop – when will the Minister for the Water Security Agency stand up for people who are following the rules but are paying the price for this government’s failures to act on illegal drainage.” Ritchie added.

Marit says they want to get the Ag Water Stewardship Policy right the first time. He mentioned a meeting about the policy took place in Yorkton a month ago that had representatives from the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS), Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), SAWS, SaskWheat, among others attending.

“Many other recommendations are coming forward – that is why the consultation process is going forward and continuing, Mr. Speaker. We want to make sure we get this right for the Province of Saskatchewan; a strategy that was never done by the members opposite when they were in government, Mr. Speaker, we’re going to get this one right.” Marit stated.

 According to WSA Spokesperson Patrick Boyle, the consultation process for the Ag Water Stewardship Policy has just wrapped up and they will begin to sift through the feedback.

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